Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 7: American Beauty

7. American Beauty (1999)
Drama, 122 minutes
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening and Thora Birch

Although I am not ranking the films on this list, American Beauty is my favorite of those mentioned so far. It's an excellent example of the dysfunctional family. In fact, the Burnhams are more messed up than the Simpsons.

The film wouldn't work without Kevin Spacey. We have come to know him for outspoken characters who are often villains, but it's hard not to root for Lester Burnham. He decides one day that his life is a sham and that he should do something about it. The film is rooted in dark humor and the scene in which he quits his job is a fine example. He's also sick of his wife Carolyn (Bening) and makes his thoughts known at the dinner table. All he really wants to do is work out in an attempt to attract one of his daughter's friends from school.

The Burnhams are not the only dysfunctional family in the neighborhood. Ricky Fitts lives next door and has to deal with a strict father. He likes Jane Burnham (Birch) and finds her a lot more interesting than her more popular friend. He's dealing drugs and is obsessed with photography.

The beauty mentioned in the title has more than one meaning. To Lester Burnham, it's a young girl. To Ricky Fitts, it's Jane's personality and the way a paper bag moves in the wind. Carolyn Burnham values possessions and people's opinion above everything else. Jane's friend measures her success by how popular she is in school and how many people find her attractive.

I like American Beauty for the story, the acting, and the dark humor. It won't appeal to everyone because it could be viewed as a depressing picture of the world and American society in general.

If you like American Beauty:

It's difficult to recommend similar films to American Beauty because there's nothing that quite fits. It really depends on why you liked the film.

If you're a fan of Kevin Spacey, you might enjoy his performances in Se7en or The Usual Suspects. Even his recent role in Horrible Bosses reminds me a little of Lester Burnham.

If the film appeals because of the dark humor, it's worth taking a look at movies such as Fargo, In Bruges, or anything directed by Quentin Tarantino.

If the appeal lies in the portrayal of the dysfunctional family, try Revolutionary Road (also directed by Mendes) or, for something slightly less dark, Little Miss Sunshine.

Click here for my full review of American Beauty.

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